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Board authorizes Sheriff to hike rates for services in contract cities

The Board of Supervisors today signed off on Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco's request to hike the blanket rate charged to 16 cities and other contract entities for the use of patrol deputies and support services associated with operations.  

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the supervisors authorized the 4.09% increase, which is retroactive to July 1, 2021. According to sheriff's officials, it's needed to recoup higher costs incurred by the department.

Under the revised rate schedule, the cost of a sheriff's patrol deputy will rise from $197.90 per hour to $206 per hour.  

"Each year, the Sheriff's Department does an analysis of just its patrol operations and determines real costs effectively through its sheer size," according to an agency statement posted to the board's agenda. "The fully supported contract law enforcement rates include the entire systemic costs involving the running of a (law enforcement) department."  

The agency acknowledged that the main pressures in the current budget cycle stem from higher "pension obligations and salary increases" obtained by the Riverside Sheriffs Association for the several thousand deputies it represents, and the costs of increased pensions and salary hikes for executive-level personnel represented by the Law Enforcement Management Unit.  

Last year's hike was 4.74%. In 2015, a 7% hike prompted an outcry from elected and non-elected officials from Indian Wells, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, Palm Desert and Temecula, who challenged the justification for such a significant upward adjustment. They protested that law enforcement expenses were draining their budgets and should be capped.  

“We had our study session today with City Council outlining our police budget. And in our police budget, we accounted for that rate increase, as well as a projected rate increase for the future," Assistant City Manager for Palm Desert Andrew Firestine.

The objections led to a two-year assessment of sheriff's operations conducted by Netherlands-based professional services firm KPMG, at a cost of nearly $40 million. After the company's audit and recommendations, some sheriff's management practices were changed, and adjustments were made to deputies' schedules and assignments at several stations to save money.   

However, the KPMG work has been criticized by the Riverside County Grand Jury and other sources as excessively expensive with limited results.   

The city of Menifee in 2020 abrogated its contract with the county for law enforcement services and formed a stand-alone police department.   

Cities receive the benefit of helicopter patrols, robbery and homicide investigations, SWAT unit and bomb squad responses without having to foot the bills individually. Contracting entities are further spared the cost of lawsuits stemming from the actions of sheriff's personnel, according to the agency.

In addition to hiking patrol deputy rates, the board unanimously supported the sheriff's request that all 16 municipalities under contract with the county for law enforcement services be required to pay higher or lower sums for the sheriff's use of facilities dedicated to servicing the communities.  

Officials said heftier bills generally stem from county Department of Facilities Management costs to maintain stations, including lights, waterworks, landscaping and custodial operations. The sheriff initially carries the expenses, then passes them on to the contracting parties, each of which is invoiced in proportion to how much they consume.

The largest percentage increase in facilities costs will be borne by San Jacinto, which is facing a $43,759 bill, compared to $30,635 the previous fiscal year -- a roughly 43% jump.

Perris will bear the highest facilities fee in dollars and cents: $557,019. That's a 3% increase from the previous fiscal year.   

A few cities, including Coachella and La Quinta, will net substantial savings in facilities charges for the current fiscal year, according to sheriff's documents.

“We pay for our share. And that is calculated based on the number of personnel that work in Palm Desert assigned to that station as a fraction of the overall facility. So that facility rate is something that we also anticipate and budget each and every year,” said Firestine.

The rate hikes follow approval by the board last month of increases in the sheriff's extra duty overtime rates, which are charged to cities, courts and other entities for the use of deputies, investigators, crime scene technicians, helicopter pilots and other personnel when they're assigned to perform duties outside their normal work schedules, such as for parades, festivals and other "special events."

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department said there are many benefits of contracted police services.

A significant benefit in my opinion would be increased staffing levels. Having more deputies visible within our communities reduces serious crimes like robbery, rape, and aggravated assault. Contract cities draw upon the full potential of the RCSD and obtain an optimum level of police service for a lesser cost than would be required for them to maintain their own police department. In addition, the contract cities draw upon resources such as:

•Patrol
•Investigations
•Specialized Units (SWAT, Hazardous Devices, K9, Dive)
•Crime Prevention
•Traffic
•Community Support Services

Public safety is an important investment that represents a significant portion of the budgets of many local governments. Providing management and oversight of an independent police department can be demanding, especially for smaller communities. Contracting law enforcement services with the RCSD offers many benefits as indicated above.

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Samantha Lomibao

Samantha joined KESQ News Channel 3 in May 2021. Learn more about Samantha here here.

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